How To Prioritize With The ABCDE Method

Getting everything out of your head and onto a To-Do list is a great place to start if you want to improve your time management.

But it’s how you prioritize and then action your To-Do list that will really make a difference to how efficiently you use your time.

There are different ways you can prioritize your To-Do lists and one of them is to use the Eisenhower Box, which I have discussed in this post.

Another priority setting technique that I have encountered is known as the ABCDE Method.

This seems to get attributed to Brian Tracy, the guy who popularized the ‘Eat That Frog’ method beating procrastination, but as far as I can tell, it’s essentially an extension on the ‘ABC Method’, which was developed by Alan Lakein and outlined in his book, “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life”, first published in 1973.

However, the origins are not important and I’m all for building and developing methods that work!

What is the ABCDE Method?

It’s pretty simple and requires no tools or special training. All you need is some knowledge and understanding of the level of importance of each of your tasks, since each one gets assigned a letter on that basis.

‘A’ Tasks

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that the most important tasks get assigned an ‘A’.

These are the tasks that you must do. They are too critical to ignore and usually have serious consequences if you don’t do them. They are also likely to have the biggest potential upsides if you do accomplish them.

If you have more than one item ranked A in your list, you then sub-rank them with a numerical suffix, e.g A-1, A-2, A-3, etc. A-1 gets priority.

Ideally, you should only have one item in the ‘A’ category, but if you feel you have more, keep it down to a maximum of three. After all, a priority by definition is something regarded as more important than others and if you keep adding to the ‘A’ list, you’re kind of back to just having a regular, unprioritized list of things to do.

‘B’ Tasks

These are tasks that are also important but don’t have a critical deadline and the consequences of failing to do them are much smaller than the A Tasks. So, for example, returning most calls or emails might fall into their category.

You can view these as tasks that you should do, but never before you have completed all of the ‘A’ tasks.

‘C’ Tasks

Some tasks could be classed as ‘nice to do’, but don’t have any consequences ‘C’ Tasks have no consequences if you don’t complete them.

We have to watch out for these, as they can be the ones that we gravitate towards and love to work on the most. They can be quick and easy to accomplish, but usually don’t contribute much towards your goals.

‘D’ Tasks

‘D’ Tasks get a ‘D’ status if they can be delegated to someone else.

Tracy says that you should delegate everything you possibly can to others as it frees up time to engage in the ‘A’ activities. I used to view delegating as lazy and just off-loading my cr*p onto someone else, which probably explains why I ended up spending way too much time doing ‘C’ and ‘D’ Tasks and not enough on the ones that could make a difference to my progress.

‘E’ Tasks

Any task that doesn’t fit into the criteria for A, B, C or D get an ‘E’ and should be eliminated from your list altogether. ‘E’ Tasks are basically irrelevant tasks.

Making this method work depends on your commitment and ability to get cracking on the A-1 task first each and every time. In essence, you’re taking the ‘frog-eating’ approach.

Whenever a new task or project comes up, it should be entered on your To-Do list and designated the appropriate A to E status before you start work on it. Tracy notes that you should try to avoid working on anything that isn’t on the list, others you’ll end up getting caught up in low-value activities.

I think this is a good point, as it encourages you to maintain a proactive working style, rather than constantly reacting to the demands of others, which as I have discussed in other posts on this blog, is a sure way to lose control of your time.

[Source: Brian Tracy website]

My verdict on the ABCDE Method

Is this method any good or not?

Ranking your tasks may seem like a very obvious strategy, but I don’t think it’s something that many of us do with any real discipline and consistency. And like most of the strategies discussed on this blog, commitment, discipline and consistency of effort play a pivotal role in ensuring success.

I don’t really have any major criticisms of the ABCDE Method. It’s simple and logical, which increases the chances of sustainability.

However, I would comment that I don’t really get the point of labelling something ‘E’ if you’re just going to eliminate it. If I am using a To-Do list, I’d just cross it out, but also I’m not sure something irrelevant would necessarily make it to the list in the first place. Just my opinion.

All in all, a solid strategy though.

The process of thinking through and analyzing your To-Do list to determine your “A-1” tasks is in itself a useful exercise in focus and attention and if you can develop the habit of doing this every time you add tasks, I find it automatically gets your brain into the right gear to get stuck into stuff straight away.

Time Hack Hero Takeaway

If you don’t prioritize your To-Do list, it is likely that you will end up working through the lowest-value and easiest tasks first, which can give you a false sense of productivity, because you might look at your list and see that eighty, maybe ninety per cent of the tasks are struck through and feel you’ve achieved a lot for the day.

But if you’ve missed that big, ugly task you keep avoiding, i.e. your frog, your A-1, and it gets carried over to the next day (like it always does), then you may not have been as productive as you actually thought.

I know from experience that this is an easy trap to fall into – you keep busy with the inconsequential stuff while the important tasks are the cans that get continually kicked down the road unless you make a conscious effort to deal them.

And the ABCDE Method could be the solution to this problem.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which method you use to prioritize your tasks, as long as you do prioritize them so that you can focus your attention time on the things that will have the greatest positive impact on your life.

More reading

How To Write A To-Do List – Properly!

How To Create A Schedule

Eat That Frog! Book Review

[Featured image credit: Pixabay]

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